Well, Hello, Hello! Making The Skies A Lot Friendlier Through Social Media.

By Mel Webster, Special to AccessFares

February 29, 2012, Dallas Texas - We've all been there - stuck at 30,000 feet next to a seatmate we would rather not spend the next twelve long hours with. Well, KLM are changing how you fly by enabling you to choose your own seatmate with their new

Meet and Seat program. Here's how it works. Once you are ticketed on select KLM routes and you want to opt in, simply go to the Manage My Bookings section of the KLM website and enter your booking number. From this log in and through your Facebook or LinkedIn profile you can share your info and check out potential seatmates for your flight. You can edit your profile to show only what you want to reveal to potential seatmates. It does though take two to tango, as both parties must agree to be seatmates for a flight.

So, while initial reaction to this breakthrough use of social media has primarily focused on the potential for joining the mile high club, the appeal to business travelers should be strong. If you are a venture capitalist scheduled to fly to Europe, this new tool allows you to review potential seatmate profiles so your time in the air could be spent networking and really getting down to business before you arrive at your destination.

Or, if you are headed for a European trade show, you could locate a seatmate also attending the event and get a head start on the business of doing business. The potential is intriguing. Sure, there is plenty of room for funny business, social media is after all about being social.

However, this innovative use of social media demonstrates KLM's understanding of its passenger base and how to embrace a platform the majority of airlines often fail miserably at.

Let's not forget the recent Qantas Twitter debacle which a major media outlet called "the single largest marketing fail in aviation history". "Making a hash out of a twitter contest" was typical of the media backlash about a contest that was launched only months after protracted labor disputes with three unions and the CEO grounding all flights worldwide leaving thousands of passengers stranded.

The Qantas luxury contest using social media was clearly mistimed. Launching a competition asking for tweets about " what your dream Qantas luxury experience is (be creative!)" showed a severe disconnect with their passenger base.

Twitter user Gump5000 said luxury was "giving yourself a pay rise whilst grounding your whole airline and taking local jobs offshore".

"#QantasLuxury is sitting in your first-class lounge chair, watching a failed social media campaign get out of control," CherryPizza tweeted.

And @the-aaron-smith said: "#qantasluxury is chartering a Greyhound bus and arriving at your destination days before your grounded Qantas flight".

While @Colvinius said: "Getting from A to B without the plane being grounded or an engine catching fire. #qantasluxury".

Thousands of sarcastic passenger tweets resulted in unintentionally funny tweets from the Qantas PR department, such as this one:

"Wow!  Some very creative tweeps out there. Keep the entries coming #QantasWeHearYou".

Tweeps? We hear you? Interestingly, the prize was not a pair of tickets for travel to experience the luxury of Qantas first or business class, but inexplicably, a first class amenity pack with "our famous QF pajamas". No doubt they would come in handy if you were stranded in Dubai by the carrier refusing to fly their own planes as retribution to the unions.

At the other end of the spectrum, KLM are reaching out to their passengers with intelligent, original use of social media, tied directly into their product and delivering tangible benefits to those who choose to participate. As an experiment last year this savvy carrier launched the KLM Surprise Program using Foursquare and Twitter. This was a very simple premise that showed KLM to really be in touch with their passenger base by asking them to be in touch with the airline through social media. If you checked into Foursquare or tweeted while waiting at a gate, KLM might surprise you on the spot with an upgrade or gift selected specifically for you after KLM had reviewed your social profile. All in all, a very nice, memorable marketing campaign that demonstrates KLM is a social media pioneer who know how to reach out to their markets and genuinely listen to their passengers.

John George, Managing Partner at AccessFares said: " We believe social seat assignments could be very useful for business travelers. Our first + business class clients are always well taken care of with their preferred seat assignments, however, social seating programs will allow them to potentially spend time with other passengers who share similar interests or business agendas".

George points out KLM is not alone in testing social seat assignments: "Malaysia Airlines were actually first out of the gate with a program called MHBuddy which uses a Facebook app. In addition to choosing your seatmate, the app will alert you if FB friends are also planning travel to the same destination. I am really interested to see if these new programs take off and change traditional seat assignment within the industry".

Malaysia Airlines' MHBuddy program also allows travelers to check in via Facebook and share their itinerary with friends.

Executive Vice President of Commercial Strategy for Malaysia Airlines, Dr. Amin Khan said: "Our customers are spending more and more time on social networks and Malaysia Airlines is one of the most active airlines using social media to drive revenue. We have over 380,000 fans who actively engage with us on our existing social media channels".

So fasten your seatbelts, it seems business travel might be a lot more fun and profitable for travelers willing to embrace social seating assignment. Tip: before sharing your profile with potential seatmates, be sure to edit those photos and late night status updates that seemed like a great idea at the time.

By Mel Webster

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